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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Death Of (Gym) Etiquette

In the pursuit of better health, and more importantly for those going to the beaches, better looking bodies in photographs to be immortalized over Facebook, gym goers have had to set up near ridiculous goals in order to achieve this "perfection".

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While it is admirable when clients are fiercely determined in achieving this singular goal, a subset of this population has learned to do these goals "at all costs" - at the expense of others, in terms of convenience, time, camaraderie, and sadly, manners.

Having taught group exercise classes and conducted private sessions in one-on-one and small group settings, and having done this since 1998, I have seen an entire spectrum of Bad Behavior in the gym setting, and thanks to a question posted by Power Music, it gave me excellent fodder and much food for thought for this piece. (And, it seems, people around the world are prone to these lapses in etiquette, it isn't merely a local thing here in the Philippines.)

Here is but a sampling (scary to think this list is not exhaustive!) of ill-manners and poor etiquette that make up some of the worst behaviors exhibited in fitness centers everywhere.

1. The Weight Droppers

This is personally one of my biggest pet peeves, and of course, it happens with the most artificially-induced bulked-up guys in the gym: He -it's almost always a he, come to think of it, I haven't seen a woman do this - makes a big "production" about how this is the "heaviest I've ever lifted", with some acolytes around him cheering him on, lifts the weight for about three to four times in improper form, grunting for everyone to hear, then drops the weight with a thunderous thud.

News for he-man: If you can't control the rate of descent (any action that works towards gravity instead of against it) of what you carried, then it's too heavy for you.

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I don't mind the announcing of it being the heaviest he's ever lifted, it makes public humiliation that much easier when he can't even complete one repetition of the exercise. I also don't mind the heavy grunting and groaning, as it provides a boost mentally to some athletes. (I am reminded of Sanchez-Vicario in professional tennis, her expression when she returns the ball is, uhm, unique.)

But to drop the weight as if your sworn enemy is underneath you and about to be crushed, it's in bad form - both literally and figuratively - because (1) you scare the living daylights out of anyone in the immediate vicinity, especially those who really weren't giving you any time of day (2) it reeks of being an attention whore, trying to announce what a big, strong man you are (but it betrays the opposite) and (3) you cause damage both to the plate and the floor, in other words, you are destroying gym property.

Not to mention the worst part of it all, he-man isn't aware that carrying that much weight may actually throw his back out or cause even more serious injuries because of overestimating what he can do, all for the sake of showing off his supposed physical prowess.

Don't make me get out a ruler to measure your real size.

2. The Incessant Phone User

Today's fast paced world demands that we be on call all the time, and understandably, people bring their mobile phones and devices with them even when working out. However, some clients forget that they are also sharing space with other members - paying members - who did not come to the gym to hear you talk about how much of a revision you need to do on your latest sales report, or how you are instructing your secretary to tell your patients that the doctor will be coming in a little late due to an "emergency" (aka you want to finish your workout).

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I understand, your call is important to you. But the key word there is that it's ONLY important to you, and to no one else: Kindly take your call outside of the group exercise room and go to an area where you will be the least disruptive, pwede? This practice is most insensitive when the class in particular is a mind-body class, and a phone conversation defeats the very atmosphere that the teacher and class is trying to achieve.

And if you're on the inclined chest press when you receive a call, please don't sit on the machine for the next 20 minutes discussing how much you lost in the stock market yesterday. This is a gym, and other people are waiting to use the machines as well. This is not your personal office or private space where you can do as you please without nary a thought of how your actions affect others.

Take note: these are paying others.

3. The Class Talkers

Some people astound you with how many decibels their voice volume can go - and not in a good way.

Another infamous act that causes great irritation is when people who attend a group exercise class mistakenly think that they are on a talk show, and proceed to talk over the teacher, the teacher's instructions and the music altogether! Talk about your unordinary loudmouth - that is not an easy feat to accomplish, but I have seen this personally with my own eyes, and sadly, my ears have heard them as well.

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Back when I was starting out teaching, I used to raise the music volume to match the loudmouths. Unfortunately, I also realized that some people took it as a challenge - and were actually able to still talk over the increased volume!

Over the years, I have learned that the opposite is just as effective, if not even more so: Whenever someone obnoxiously loud would disrupt a class, I would lower my voice and soften it so that my instructions became unintelligible. I would also minimize the music volume so you could only hear a faint beat. It resulted in the same scenario: clients straining to hear what I was saying, making the noisy party a standout, and they had to totally shut their traps lest they relished being given the evil stares from everyone else.

True story: I was conducting a mind-body class in the group exercise room, when two ladies and their personal trainer come in the room, to do exercises on the stability ball (located inside the room). One of the ladies is a medical professional most utilized by "celebrities" to "sculpt" their bodies and faces. They were both yammering away about a party they went to, who they saw, what this person was wearing - in a room and class that was supposed to induce concentration, calm and focus.

Unsurprisingly, some clients began giving them dirty looks, and I decided to approach the trainer to let him know - as if he didn't know - that there was a class being conducted while his clients kept harping on makeup tips. He gave me an irritated smirk, informed the clients that "pinapalabas tayo sa kwarto" (we're being asked to leave the room) and on the way out, the two ladies continued chattering obliviously - and loudly - over their lunch plans.

I guess some people are too dense for words. Even "celebrity doctors".

4. The Maid "Owners"

While it really isn't legal in 2012 to "own" people - and I know some people who want to see those days come back, shudder - some, uhm, "masters" are so used to their maids picking up after them that they bring this (un)pleasant characteristic with them to the gym.

The result: You have weight lifters who, ironically, cannot return the plates they used for their "public lifting" (read: for show), leaving them on the bars, while Ms. Senior Citizen, next in line to lift, is frantically hoping a fitness trainer will help her remove at least one of the plates off the bar, which weighs more than her entire body.

You have irresponsible clients leaving dumbbells of all sizes all over the place, giving headaches to the gym management for potential lawsuits and disability claims.

"Grunters" try to outdo their previous record of doing 1000 situps in one go, and after that show of endurance, cannot be bothered to tap into that same endurance to return the mat they used to their rightful place - out of the way, stacked in a corner so others may use the same equipment.

Bands, steps, "sliders", Bosu balls and so much more equipment getting unaccounted for or lost, because people pick a spot to do their "thing" then conveniently forgetting to return where they got them.

Are they expecting the "maids" to pick up after them? Do the gym employees have to start wearing maids' uniforms as well? But before we do that, maybe we should discuss adding "Servitude Pay" into membership fees. Are these clients amenable to that?

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We are all adults. Kindly pick up after yourselves. Please lang.

5. The Perennial Complainer

It's too hot. Now it's too cold. I want a towel with my membership - scratch that, I want an entire Bed, Bath and Beyond collection to go with my daily usage, together with Clarins bath products. And I want a buffet waiting for me after my workout...hello! In other gyms, they give clients bananas, bottomless softdrinks and a coupon for a car raffle!

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I understand clients who complain about the basic necessities: having a functional ventilation and cooling system, having machines that work efficiently and not cause more bodily harm than good, having enough equipment and paraphernalia so that a large number of people can enjoy the full workout experience, making sure the floor is safe, dry and ready for physical activities.

I differentiate those valid concerns from those that come close to asking for a chocolate fountain next to a auburn unicorn spewing euros out their mouths: I actually had a client ask me if it was alright to bring her Lhasa Apso with her to class, because she can't bear to be without her baby, and the uniformed maid has to fan her (the client) while in class and deliver her Evian water when she needs it, while poor Lhassie Baby has to do without someone fanning her and giving her expensive doggie treats.

If you think a request like that is appropriate, I suggest heading down to the counseling center of any major hospital. You need help, fast - and not from a fitness center.

Don't worry, we're only halfway through this list. More etiquette gems in the next post.


  1. This was a good suggestion that you put up here...dude…..hope that it benefits all the ones who land up here. 

    Gym and Fitness Equipment